From The Editor

compass clipMay 2017

Various writings on St Ignatius recount that, as he was about to leave Jerusalem, he made a secret trip to a place associated with the Ascension of the Lord on the Mount of Olives. He went there to ascertain whether the feet of Jesus were pointing north or south. For years I thought this was rather a pious concern, especially as the area, while not the historical place of the Ascension, is venerated as such by Christians and Muslims alike.

Why would facing to the north or the south matter? The tradition Ignatius was following was that, if the feet pointed southwards, the followers of Jesus were directed southwards to proclaim the gospel among the Jewish people only. If pointed northwards, it would mean that the gospel is intended for the whole world. Having bribed the guard with a pair of scissors to enter the small building, Ignatius found that the feet pointed to the north.

Did this visit contribute to the future world vision of Ignatius? His new Society of Jesus would go to the ends of the then-known world to spread the gospel message. The countries of the East – India and Japan – were lands of mystery and of exotic silks, foods and scents. For Ignatius, they were lands ready to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. While he lived from 1540–1556, in a small house in Rome, never travelling again, his world view was global. While he said goodbye to travel, he did not say goodbye to the wider world. His wider world was in living each day with intense letter-writing to his Jesuits abroad and in administration of the new Society, he linked his daily concerns with contemplation of the heavens in prayer.

The feast of the Ascension, marked on 28 May, signifies the end of Jesus’ earthly life and the introduction of the grace of the gospel to the world – to be shared with the world through the lives of his followers. In leaving a specific earthly place, Jesus is now available to the world. There is a big lesson to be learned in the feet pointing northwards. Pope Francis talks about the Church going to the periphery, to those places of need in society, in the world, where nobody else will go. He calls on us all to be ‘missionary disciples’.

In accounts of the Ascension, the disciples are ‘sent back’ to the city. The city of ordinary life, of homelessness and hardships, of ordinary joy and sorrow. Through this we see that the Lord is present everywhere – Lord of heaven and Lord of earth.

Donal Neary SJ